Something is Killing the Children (Boom! Studios, $14.99) begins with a group of teenage boys playing truth or dare. Choosing truth, James recounts something he recently witnessed from his bedroom window: a large and shadowy thing, blending in with the trees. His story is disturbing enough to seem fake, so much so a friend questions its veracity. James then dares his challenger to investigate.
Given the series title, you have an idea how that dare ends.
I’m not going to spoil the killer something outside of the back cover description: “terrifying creatures that live in the shadows.” Said creatures appear by the end of the first issue. along with Erica Slaughter, a specialist in both finding and killing these monsters. What follows is a hunt led by Erica to destroy the monsters consuming the sanity (and children) of the Wisconsin town.
The book has a lot working in its favor. The art (Werther Dell’edera on illustrations, Miguel Muerto as colorist) serves the story well. Daylight scenes are crisp and varied in angle, with nice use (but not overuse) of color; nighttime scenes are disjointed, bloody and horrifying.
The monsters themselves work well–blurry and confusing, as if straddling the world between nebulous dreams and concrete reality. The on-page violence is graphic, powerful, and most important necessary. These monsters are kinetic and brutal.
The writing (James Tynion IV) also delivers, resonating strongly at the character level. James is smart beyond his years, yet carries emotional baggage in common with teenagers (though in uncommon ways, given his pariah status in the school after his friends die). While reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Erica displays a singular drive, strong problem-solving skills, but is totally lacking in humor.
The rules surrounding the monsters are also compelling. Who can see them; who doesn’t, and why? This is a book that demands attention well after the reading is done.
The one element of Something is Killing the Children that puzzles me concerns the shadow organization in charge of monster killers like Erica.
As the story progresses, this organization moves from the background–present only as a silence on the other end of Erica’s calls–to the foreground, complete with new characters, politics, and internal drama. For me, the story functions well independently of their presence. It made me question why they were included, or rather why they couldn’t just exist on the other end of Erica’s phone the whole time.
Still, this book is a recommended read. With a propulsive story, brutal, on-page violence, and intriguing characters (and monsters), it’s easy to see why the book was nominated for multiple awards in 2020. Those dark pockets of the woods just got a lot more horrifying.